Civil War Clear Evidence?

By Brother Anderson

Clear evidence of a divine gift?

Some Seventh-day Adventists claim that Mrs. White's statements regarding the Civil War provide evidence that she was a prophet of God. For example, in the June, 1999, issue of Hour of Prophecy Newspaper, Adventist author Nell Casey declares that one of Mrs. White's statements on the Civil War is evidence of her divine inspiration:

"While most of her [Ellen White's] work was not about future events she did predict some things that give clear evidence of her divine gift:
'God is punishing the North, that they have so long suffered the accursed sin of slavery to exist; for in the sight of heaven it is a sin of the darkest dye. God is not with the South, and He will punish them dreadfully in the end.' Testimonies, Vol. 1, p. 359, 1863"1

In this quote, published midway through the Civil War, Ellen White makes two claims:

  1. God is punishing the North for allowing slavery to exist.
  2. God is not with the South, and they will be punished.

First, the idea that God was punishing the North for allowing slavery to continue was widely acknowledged among Christians. In fact, Abraham Lincoln himself felt the North's military failures in the early years of the war were due to God's chastisement. Mrs. White's testimony was simply one of many Christian voices proclaiming the same warning throughout the North. This part of her testimony was not unique to her--it was simply a repetition of what many other Christians were already saying.

For example, the Lutheran Historical Society reports:

"Most preachers, North and South alike­, argued that the war was God's punishment of the nation on account if its sins. The greatest national sin denounced by preachers in the North was slavery."2

Second, Mrs. White said the South would "be punished." It would have been more impressive if Mrs. White had said outright that the South was going to lose the war. After all, by 1863 the tide of the war was beginning to turn against the South. Nevertheless, she remained cautious, merely saying the South would be "punished." Does this ambiguous statement give "clear evidence of her divine gift?" You decide.

Others who never claimed prophethood also predicted judgment was coming. Negro reformer David Walker wrote of a coming split in the Union as far back as 1829:

"...they forget that God rules in the armies of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth, having his ears continually open to the cries, tears and groans of his oppressed people; and being a just and holy Being will at one day appear fully in behalf of the oppressed, and arrest the progress of the avaricious oppressors; for although the destruction of the oppressors God may not effect by the oppressed, yet the Lord our God will bring other destructions upon them--for not unfrequently will he cause them to rise up one against another, to be split and divided, and to oppress each other, and sometimes to open hostilities with sword in hand."3

Thomas Jefferson, the third U.S. President, also not a prophet, alluded to a coming judgment in a letter he wrote in 1781:

"And can the liberties of a nation be thought secure, when we have removed their only firm basis--a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are the gift of God? that they are not to be violated but with his wrath? Indeed, I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just; that his justice cannot sleep forever."4

Thus, Mrs. White's predictions of punishment were no different than what many others around her had been saying for years and provide no clear evidence she was inspired.

Ellen White had Special Insight into the Civil War?

According to the White Estate, Ellen White provided Adventists with a wealth of unique information on the Civil War--information that was apparently unavailable to the general public:

"The visions at Parkville, Michigan, January 12, 1861; at Roosevelt, New York, August 3, 1861; and at Battle Creek, January 4, 1862, put Adventists in the unique position of knowing, first, of the coming war and its ferocity and long duration, and then, its philosophy, with the assurance that God had a controlling hand in the affairs of the nation. They had an inside view of victories and losses and the potential of its becoming an international conflict."5

Is this true? Did Mrs. White really provide Adventists with any special insight on the ferocity and duration of the Civil War that they could not easily obtain from a newspaper?

H.E. Carver was a Seventh-day Adventist minister in Iowa during the 1860's, and was associated with the Whites. When the Civil War broke out he, like many other Adventists, looked to Ellen White for counsel. Here is his testimony about his disappointing experience:

"The whole church was anxiously and prayerfully desirous to know what was duty at that crisis, and it did seem that the time had come if it ever was to come for the divine inspiration of Mrs. White to be demonstrated. True, an attempt was made to gain some credit for her by publishing a vision of the battle of Bull Run after it was fought and the result known, but the attempt was so ludicrously absurd that it was, I believe, never repeated. She could describe the battle of Bull Run after it occurred, but she could not tell us beforehand of Sherman's triumphant march through rebeldom, of Lee's surrender to Grant at Appomattox, or of our much beloved and lamented President's assassination. She could not even give us any instructions how to act in case of being drafted until it was too late to be of service.

"She did, however, claim to have visions during the war, one of the principal items of which related to the proper length of the sisters' dresses; and upon this subject, plain and simple as it may seem, her instructions to the sister have been contradictory; at one time directing them to wear dresses that would clear the filth of the streets an inch or two and another directing that they do not reach the ground by 8 or 9 inches."6

England to attack the United States?

The White Estate boldly claimed Ellen provided Adventists with unique insight into the "potential" of the Civil War "becoming an international conflict." Is this true? Was the information Ellen White provided to Adventists unique or valuable in any way?

One of the earliest objectives of the Confederacy was to engage the assistance of England and France in the war. This was widely known. Ellen White made her first mention of England in a vision that supposedly took place on January 4, 1862, eight months after the start of the war. She writes:

"I was shown...the war is not to do away slavery, but merely to preserve the Union. ... This nation will yet be humbled into the dust. England is studying whether it is best to take advantage of the present weak condition of our nation, and venture to make war upon her. ... When England does declare war, all nations will have an interest of their own to serve, and there will be general war, general confusion. England is acquainted with the diversity of feeling among those who are seeking to quell the rebellion. ... Had our nation remained united it would have had strength, but divided it must fall."8

First, Ellen White was "shown" that the real objective of the war was not to abolish slavery but instead to preserve the union. What do historians say about that?

"'Of the American Civil War it may safely be asserted that there was a single cause, slavery,' wrote historian James Ford Rhodes in 1913."9
"What lay at the root of this separation? Slavery. It was the sole institution not shared by North and South. The peculiar institution defined the South. 'On the subject of slavery,' declared the Charleston Mercury in 1858, 'the North and South ... are not only two Peoples, but they are rival, hostile Peoples.' Two of the North's foremost political leaders echoed this point in the same year. Slavery and freedom, said Senator William H. Seward of New York, are 'more than incongruous - they are incompatible.' The collision between them 'is an irrepressible conflict between opposing and enduring forces, and it means that the United States must and will, sooner or later, become either entirely a slave holding nation, or entirely a free-labor nation.' Abraham Lincoln, in a famous speech, declared that 'house divided against itself cannot stand. I believe this government cannot endure, permanently half slave and half free.'"10

Second, Ellen White said the United States will be "humbled in the dust" and "must fall." Her vivid language makes it appear as if England was studying when would b the opportune time to attack the United States. When the attack came, the United States would fall in defeat. Did England declare war on this nation to humble it into the dust? Did a divided America fall to England? The conspiracy theory Mrs. White painted never took place. The South wanted England and France to side with them in the war, but this was only wishful thinking. England and France were both tied up in European affairs and had little interest in getting involved in an ugly war far from their homelands. Besides, England was profiting from the war, having sold hundreds of thousands of rifles and millions of rounds of ammunition to the Union in the first years of the war. It is obvious Ellen White was offering pure speculation rather than a sure word from God. Less than a year after she published this testimony, President Lincoln made his famous Emancipation Proclamation, and England changed "their pledged neutrality to outright condemnation of the Confederacy."11 It is unfortunate Ellen White did not foresee England siding with the Union, backing its efforts to preserve the union, because it is exactly the opposite of what she insinuated would happen.

At the time Mrs. White had her vision, it was thought by some that England could enter the war. A mere two months before Ellen White's vision, the Trent Affair incident between the U.S. and England was widely reported in the news:

"One crisis associated with the blockade, however, almost ruptured relations between the United States and Britain: the Trent affair. On November 8, 1861, the USS San Jacinto stopped the British packet Trent on the high seas near Cuba and captured James Mason and John Slidell, Confederate diplomats on their way to London and Paris, respectively, to seek diplomatic recognition. The British government considered this a violation of international law and demanded an apology and the release of Mason and Slidell. Public opinion in the North and in England rose to fever pitch while Southerners watched with high hopes that a war would break out between Britain and the United States. But President Lincoln and Secretary of State William H. Seward cooled the crisis by releasing Mason and Slidell, and Britain dropped the demand for an apology."12

England prepared for conflict, even sending troops to Canada. President Lincoln, not wanting a second war, agreed to release the men. On January 8, the men were released and the crisis died out. While war with England seemed a real possibility when Mrs. White had her vision on January 4, interest in war waned over the coming months. The Southern diplomats failed to get recognition from Europe for the Confederacy, and Europe turned its attention to internal matters.

Even though England did not join the war, could it be that England was secretly planning to make war? Other than the brief Trent Affair flair up, England appeared disinterested in joining the war. The Foreign Secretary of England, "Lord Palmerston pursued a policy of neutrality. His international concerns were centred in Europe."13 The Queen of England made a similar commitment to neutrality at the start of the war:

On May 13th, 1861 Queen Victoria issued the proclamation of neutrality stating that the government of Great Britain would remain formally neutral in the United States’ domestic affairs for the remainder of the war, and instructed British citizens to observe this neutrality.14

By 1863, England had condemned the Confederacy, and the chance of England joining the war was nil. Ellen White simply repeated what other doomsayers were saying--that England would declare war on the U.S. However, the crisis cooled and it never came to pass. She provided Adventists with no special insight on this subject that they could not have received from their daily newspaper. If anything, her insight was misleading, and it took less than a year for events to prove it was not from God.

Did Ellen White know when Civil War would start?

According to the SDA Adult Sabbath School Lesson, Mrs. White had divine insight into the outbreak of the civil war:

"For instance, on January 12, 1861, three months before the outbreak of the American Civil War, Mrs. White received a vision in the Parkville, Michigan, church in which she was shown battlefields covered with the dead and dying. As she related what she had seen, she told her listeners, 'There are men in this house who will lose sons in that war.'—Pacific Union Recorder, March 7, 1912 (Arthur L. White, Ellen G. White: The Early Years, vol. 1, p. 463). No less than five families in the room that day lost sons in the Civil War."15

First, this vision occurred on January 12, 1861. Three weeks prior to the vision, South Carolina had seceded from the Union, followed by Mississippi (Jan. 9), Florida (Jan. 10), and Alabama (Jan. 11). A fifth state, Georgia, had already called a convention on secession and was on the verge of seceding.16 Thus, at the point of the vision on January 12, four states had already seceded, and a fifth was in the processes of seceding. Thus, it would appear to anyone who could read a newspaper that the Civil War was imminent.

A second fact to consider is the source of the information. It was reported by Elder Loughborough in 1912, a whole 51 years after the supposed event took place. On other occasions, his recollections were found to be less than historically accurate. Even assuming Loughborough told the story correctly, one must still question whether it took prophetic knowledge to figure out a war was about to commence and that someone sitting in a large congregation would end up dying.17

Third, its possible Ellen White was once again copying the ideas of Mormon prophet Joseph Smith. Smith made the following prophecies about the civil war in 1832--a full 30 years prior to Mrs. White's prediction:

Joseph Smith, Revelation and Prophecy on War, December 25, 183218 Ellen G. White, Testimonies, vol. 1, p. 259, 1862

1. Verily, thus saith the Lord concerning the wars that will shortly come to pass, beginning at the rebellion of South Carolina, which will eventually terminate in the death and misery of many souls...
 3. For behold, the Southern Sates shall be divided against the Northern States, and the nations, even the nation of Great Britain, as it is called, and they shall also call upon other nations against other nations in order to defend themselves against other nations; and then war shall be poured out upon all nations.

When England does declare war, all nations will have an interest of their own to serve, and there will be general war, general confusion.

Interestingly, both Smith and White were wrong about England's involvment in the Civil War, and about the war turning into a world-wide conflict. Nevertheless, Mormons can at least tout that 30 years prior to the war, Smith prophesied it would start in South Carolina. Ellen's prediction only came after four states had already left the Union, at a time when many other people who were not prophets were also predicting a long and costly war. Let us examine some non-prophet people who made predictions about the war. Before the war, Union General Winfield Scott "predicted the Civil War would last for many years."19 The great Sam Houston reportedly told a crowd on April 19, 1861, that "hundreds of thousands of lives" would be lost in a civil war.20 Louisiana Judge James G. Taliaferro warned the secession "threatened the interests and destiny of Louisiana" and he "predicted war, ruin, and decline."21 Even the Bell Witch "predicted the civil war" and "the emancipation of slaves."22 It seems the Bell Witch, in predicting the emancipation of slaves, had more insight than Sister White, who wrote at the start of the war: "It looked to me like an impossibility now for slavery to be done away."23

Conclusion: Does the Civil War provide clear evidence of her divine gift?

On the contrary, Mrs. White's testimonies reveal she did not know any more than the average person who could read newspapers. Ellen White was simply one of many voices already predicting gloom and doom for the nation. By the time she jumped on the bandwagon, the Civil War already appeared imminent to many. While some hoped for a short war, others predicted a long, destructive war. During the war, she falsely expected England would get involved, and falsely said the war was "not to abolish slavery, but to preserve it as it is."24 Later, she falsely prophesied that slavery would be revived again in the South:

"Slavery will again be revived in the Southern States; for the spirit of slavery still lives. Therefore it will not do for those who labor among the colored people to preach the truth as boldly and openly as they would be free to do in other places. Even Christ clothed His lessons in figures and parables to avoid the opposition of the Pharisees."25

Is this clear evidence of a divine gift? You decide.

See also


1. Nell Casey, Hour of Prophecy Newspaper, Vol. 30, #6, p. 8.

2. Paul A. Baglyos, Lutheran Historical Society of the Mid-Atlantic Newsletter, Winter 1999.

3. David Walker, 1829.

4. Thomas Jefferson, Notes on Virginia.

5. Arthur White, Ellen G. White Volume 2 The Progressive Years, 1862-1876, p. 46.

6. H.E. Carver, Mrs. E. G. White's Claims to Divine Inspiration Examined, H.E. Carver, 1877.

7. D.M. Canright, Life of Mrs. E.G. White - Her False Claims Refuted, chapter 15.

8. Ellen White, Testimonies, Vol. 1, p. 259.

9. The Reader's Companion to American History (copyright 1991).

10. Ibid.


12. The Reader's Companion to American History (copyright 1991).

13. Wikipedia, article "United Kingdom and the American Civil War."


15. Gerhard Pfandl, 2009 SDA Sabbath Adult School Quarterly, "Prophetic Gift", Quarter 1, lesson #7.

16. On January 2, Georgia, had selected delegates to attend a Secession Convention on January 16. On January 19, they voted overwhelmingly to secede.(Wikipedia)

17. U.S. Army Military History Institute, Carlisle, Pennsylvania. There were 623,026 casualties in the Civil War--more than all other wars in U.S. history combined.

18. Joseph Smith, Doctrines and Covenants, p. 144.

19. Jim Donovan, Custer and the Little Bighorn (Crestline, 2001), p. 26.

20. Wikipedia, article "Texas in the American Civil War."

21. Wikipedia, article "Louisiana Secession."

22.Brad Steiger, Real Ghosts, Restless Spirits, and Haunted Places, 2nd ed. (Visible Ink Press, 2012), chapter 4.

23. Ellen White, Review and Herald, August 27, 1861.

24. Ellen White, Testimonies, vol. 7, p. 4. From a vision, January 4, 1862.

25. Ellen White, Spalding, Magan Collection, p. 21. Also, Manuscript Releases, vol. 2, #153, p. 300.

Category: Visions Examined
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